- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

One of the essential elements of computing these days at least for those of us working in a graphical comput-

ing environment such as Microsoft Windows, Apple's Mac OS or even Linux is having a mouse, or some kind of pointing device.

So many computing functions depend on the mouse: opening and closing programs, minimizing and maximizing program or document windows, making selections, executing some commands. One can perform most of these functions without a mouse, but it's not easy. For many of us, then, a mouse or trackball is essential.

Microsoft Corp. claimed it had advanced things last year when it introduced the IntelliMouse, which eliminates the old "mouse ball," which was based on generating a signal based on moving parts. The new process works by rapidly capturing digital images as the mouse or trackball is moved. Last year's IntelliMouse optical mouse takes 1,500 images per second, the new IntelliEye technology takes 2,000 images per second, delivering unprecedented precision and speed.

The firm's hardware group has sent along two products using the new technology. One was the "Trackball Explorer," which includes five buttons, a wheel and a finger-operated trackball. The unit should sell in stores for $64.95. The other was the "Trackball Optical," which also has five buttons, including a wheel, and a thumb-operated trackball. It sells in stores for $44.95.

Last week, I tried both of these devices. Both are interesting, and one might work nicely for you.

The general appeal of a trackball over a mouse is having your hand do the moving, instead of the mouse. Instead of sliding the mouse back and forth of an area, you rotate the trackball. In one case, the thumb is used to rotate the ball; in the other, a finger, generally the index finger.

Besides the "left" and "right" mouse buttons, two other buttons are included. For these, I have found only one use so far, to go forward or backward through Web pages using Internet Explorer. The "wheel" found on the trackball device is used to scroll up and down a page, or through a list of e-mail messages or files.

Although Microsoft is claiming a great advance in this new optical technology, I found the improvement solid but somewhat minimal. Instead, in testing these, I tended to focus on the trackball and where I would rather see it on the device.

For me and just for me, your viewpoint may differ I found that the "Trackball Optical" model, having the trackball on the side, to be operated chiefly by my thumb, was the best arrangement. The other buttons were easy to reach, the scroll wheel also was convenient to use.

It took some getting used to in order to adjust to the extra click buttons, and more than once I would think I was pressing the left mouse button to select a link on a Web page only to be catapulted back to the previous page. With time and practice, however, this became less of an issue.

The "Trackball Explorer" was less handy to deal with, for me at least. Because the trackball is on the top, the thumb is required to handle two click buttons and the scroll wheel, a lot of work for that digit, in my view, although some might argue it was not more than when guiding the trackball with one's thumb.

At the end of the process, it seems clear that these are devices a prospective user will want to see, in a store perhaps, and play with before making a final decision. Such intensely personal items cannot be judged easily because you and your hand will have to live with the decision for a while.

However, it's nice to see a company such as Microsoft trying to improve the device overall, and one can only imagine what things it will come up with for the next versions of these products, about which more information can be found on line at www.microsoft.com/products/ hardware/mouse/ mouse.htm.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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